What gets you truly excited about the future of supply chain? Personally, I’m fascinated by all of the technologies and innovations on the horizon. These solutions optimize processes and reveal clear pathways to sustainability and resilience. And they highlight all of the energy, ingenuity and creativity that surrounds us in supply chain.
One of the latest innovations addresses pressing shipping concerns. Staxxon, a New Jersey startup, has created containers that can be folded to about one-fifth the typical size. The goal is to relieve port congestion by reducing the amount of space empty containers take up while waiting to be filled or returned. Other freight technology — all-electric, autonomous ships — aims to enhance efficiency via a haulage reduction of 40,000 journeys a year and zero emissions.
Similar solutions are being applied in trucking, as well. Tech company Baton has created a platform that leverages artificial intelligence to boost efficiency on the road. The software matches truckloads to drivers for greater productivity and helps truckers avoid traffic to decrease travel time and gas usage.
In an uncertain economic and political climate, feeding the world is another priority attracting the attention of innovators. For example, British retailer Tesco is partnering with the World Wildlife Fund to host the Innovation Connections accelerator program, which expedites the launch of sustainability and food security solutions. Fascinating initiatives being funded by the program include:
- Bioacoustics technology that monitors pollinator and pest levels to protect biodiversity and increase crop yields
- A monitoring system that uses birdsong as a biodiversity indicator in grassland farming
- Low-carbon fertilizers to reduce the carbon footprint of potato production
- A circular fish feed setup that uses food waste to grow microalgae to feed fish
- Software designed for horticultural grocers to analyze and reduce their emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and identify related cost savings and efficiencies.
Some of the most tangible innovations are happening toward the end of the supply chain. Amazon and Kroger have been experimenting with drone deliveries for years to enable ultra-fast delivery. A few weeks ago, Unilever partnered with Robomart, a store-hailing startup, which enables consumers to request a visit from a vehicle stocked with products. Using the Robomart app, the customer then unlocks the vehicle’s doors, selects the products they want and pays for the items with checkout-free technology. Vehicles are stocked for particular needs, such as pharmacy vehicles with medicine, toiletries and personal care items; snack vehicles with candies, cookies, chips and drinks; and grocery vehicles with fruits, vegetables, milk and bread.
Unilever also recently announced that it’s teaming up with a drone service to fly ice cream to consumers in select markets in North Carolina and Texas. Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers shipments will be fulfilled in less than three minutes, and customers can track their delicious deliveries via real-time updates in the Flytrex app.
Many such tracking tools are backed by another game-changer, blockchain. As ASCM Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Rennie writes in her latest Insights Blog post, “Radical visibility is created through blockchain-enabled validation of every step in the product’s journey.” She notes that the technology has the potential to overcome several enduring challenges in supply chain, including counterfeiting, temperature issues and damage during transit, cybersecurity concerns, and more. Be sure to check out her article for some fascinating blockchain use cases in supply chain today.
See what’s next
This year, we’re excited to introduce Innovation Labs at the ASCM CONNECT Annual Conference, September 18-20 in Chicago. Attendees will get an important glimpse into what’s next at these interactive presentations featuring the very latest supply chain tech. I hope you will take advantage of this valuable learning opportunity. As Rennie states: “Supply chain is changing so rapidly — it’s essential to future-proof your network by applying technology as a key tool for problem-solving and ongoing progress.”